UPDATED WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities by 15%.
The vote on Wednesday was 297-114. That was a boost to arts advocates, who argued that such funding was just a tiny fraction of the federal budget yet offered any array of benefits to local communities.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) proposed the funding cut via an amendment to a larger government funding bill, arguing that the purpose was to make a “small dent” in federal spending, in which the U.S. is borrowing at a rate of 22% of the budget.
At a House Rules Committee meeting earlier this week, Grothman noted that President Donald Trump had proposed zeroing out funding for the agencies. Instead, Congress has slightly increased the budgets for the two agencies, to about $153 million each in 2018.
“I thought I would take just one little bit of this spending and kind of come down a little more on Donald Trump’s side,” Grothman said at a House Rules Committee hearing earlier this week.
He said that private charities or local governments could make up the difference.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and its ranking member, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), proposed to increase the budget of the NEA to $155 million in the 2019 fiscal year. On the House floor on Tuesday evening, Calvert argued that the agency funding has helped military veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder via art therapy programs.
A coalition of industry labor groups warned of the funding cut.
Paul E. Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, said “the NEA and NEH are vital to our economy, helping to support family-sustaining jobs in all 50 states. As we have repeatedly told members of Congress, the economic pain of reduced federal arts funding will be felt most acutely in small towns and rural communities, far from the soundstages of Hollywood and bright lights of Broadway.”
The vote against cutting funding was a signal that the NEA has moved beyond some of the divisive battles that it experienced in the 1990s, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich targeted it for elimination. In Wednesday’s vote, Republicans were almost evenly split on whether to cut funding. Only one Democrat, Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (D-Texas), voted for the cuts.
Robert Lynch, the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said that the tally was “one of the largest vote margins in support of the NEA and NEH ever, this bipartisan showing and resounding vote is a testament to the good work of the federal agencies and the power of the arts in our communities, schools, lives, and work.”